The term Photorealism was coined in 1969 by Louis K. Meisel. Photorealism focuses on the meticulous reproduction of photographic imagery in paint and developed as a reaction against the abstraction prevalent in modernist movements. Practitioners of the style often select contemporary scenes with articulations of light playing across diverse surfaces such as urban and suburban landscapes, the polished surfaces of automobiles, and the reflective interiors and exteriors of diners in order to demonstrate a highly refined technical ability. Although some European artists entered the Photorealist scene, it was largely recognized as an American movement with artists like Richard Estes and Charles Bell at the epicenter of the movement on the East Coast and Photorealists including Robert Bechtle and Ralph Goings active on the West Coast.
While individual styles vary, the photorealist process begins with a photograph, either “found” in print or intentionally produced as a study, which provides an information-dense record that is reproduced by hand through rigorous processes unique to each artist’s working method. The result can often appear to be a detached, objective image presented without comment in which the artist’s hand has been erased. Yet, each step of the process, from selecting a photograph to the execution of the highly polished canvas, represents the personal style and intention of the artist. Although originally derided for its comprehensibility, Photorealism can trace its emphasis on material reality to earlier American painters including Charles Sheeler and further to the technical acumen of seventeenth-century Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer.